5. Aug, 2014

The Purple Poppy (a tribute to animals of war)

 Recruiting for the First World War was something pigeons, cats, dogs, horses and even slugs and glow worms, were not prepared for, but thousands played a huge part in the war efforts and many were awarded medals.

     500,000 cats left Britain to work in the trenches as ratters with some being employed to detect gas. I can imagine, that many a man welcomed these creatures when stress levels were higher than most of us could ever imagine.

      Over 8 million horses died during the First World War, many on the front line.  The book/film ‘War Horse’ tells a tale of what life was truly like for those brave animals during this Great War.

       I guess many of you will be surprised (as I was) to discover that the slippery garden slug played his part too. A very important part at that! You see, every animal tested by the Army to detect gas, failed, with the exception of our slug! Exposed to mustard gas, the slug closes its breathing aperture, so protects his lungs. They were recruited and sent to war!

       To help them read their maps before going over the trenches, soldiers used Glow worms to guide them. How amazing is that?   

       And then there were the soldier dogs. Some were trained as messengers, others walked with the soldiers to warn them of approaching enemies and we have the ‘Mercy dogs’ that were trained to seek the wounded and dying on the battlefield. Many a Mercy dog sat beside a soldier as they died. The most decorated war dog in military history was known as Sergeant Stubby.

      Now I come to the paratroop pigeons or ‘spies’ as they were often called. These amazing birds (100,000 of them) acted as messengers between France and England in the First World War. However, in World War 11, Paddy Pigeon number NPS.43.945, an Irish carrier was awarded the Dickin Medal for being the fastest pigeon to break the news of the success of the D-Day invasion. But they all deserve a medal, each and every one of them.

      And so this bloodiest of wars, with a total loss of more than 9 million soldiers, not counting civilians and the animals that supported them, ended at 11 o’clock in the morning of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.  But for the animals, their war was far from over, despite the enormous effort of the Blue Cross, which was funded by the British public.

      The National Archives in Kew, London, tell a sad tale of thousands upon thousands of animal ‘soldiers’ that were left behind at the end of the war, in the hands of Belgian and French butchers. Churchill was furious when he heard of their plight and arranged for their safe return home.

I pray the sun shines on you all, wherever you are. 

“Her soul died that night under a radiant silver moon in the spring of 1918 on the side of a blood-spattered trench. Around her lay the mangled dead and the dying. Her body was untouched, her heart beat calmly, the blood coursed as ever through her veins. But looking deep into those emotionless eyes one wondered if they had suffered much before the soul had left them. Her face held an expression of resignation, as though she had ceased to hope that the end might come.”
Helen Zenna Smith, Not So Quiet...